Daniel Hudson talked towards the end of his second season in D.C. and 11th season overall in the majors, about the development he saw from two of the Washington Nationals’ other bullpen arms, Tanner Rainey and Kyle Finnegan, in the recently-completed 2020 campaign.
Rainey, 27, made 20 appearances in his second season in the Nationals’ bullpen after he was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in advance of the 2019 campaign.
In 20 1⁄3 IP, the reliever put up a 2.66 ERA, 3.78 FIP, seven walks (3.10 BB/9), 32 Ks (14.16 K/9), and a .119/.213/.328 line against.
Finnegan, 29, signed a major league deal with the Nats last winter following seven seasons in the Oakland A’s system, after he was selected in the 6th Round of the 2013 Draft, and he debuted in the majors once things got started up in July, and ended up with a 2.92 ERA, a 3.76 FIP, 13 walks (4.74 BB/9), 27 Ks (9.85 K/9), and a .226/.327/.312 line against in 24 2⁄3 IP.
“It was impressive to watch,” Hudson said of what his bullpen mates were able to do in the abbreviated season.
“Obviously we saw glimpses of what Tanner can do last year, especially down the stretch,” Hudson continued, “and into the playoffs he was a big piece for us going down the stretch last year, he pitched some big innings.
“And Kyle, being a relatively unknown, especially to this organization. Coming into Spring Training didn’t really know a whole lot about him, but I really got to know him pretty well down in the bullpen this year, and off the field he’s a great guy.
“What he was able to do in his first taste in the big leagues was very impressive as well.
“I would say the sky is the limit for both those guys pitching at the back end of the bullpen with their stuff and their make-up and who they are as ballplayers, teammates, and people, it’s going to be fun to watch for years to come.”
Rainey’s season, unfortunately, ended in mid-September, when a flexor strain in his right arm landed him on the Injured List, though manager Davey Martinez was confident they caught it early enough to avoid any serious issues going forward.
“I think we caught it early and he’s going to be fine,” Martinez said during the final weeks of the regular season.
“I mean ... he felt better today, but we don’t want to push the issue. We backdated it so that when he’s ready to come off and he’s 100%, then we’ll get him back, but until then I told him, I said, ‘Let’s do your progression, work with the trainers, get you strong again, and then we’ll start throwing again, but right now, just get you strong again and then we’ll start throwing again.”
Rainey didn’t end up returning to the bullpen, but he made a strong impression in the time he was on the mound in his second season with the Nationals.
“Rainey started off like gangbusters and because of the use we decided that it’s best that we just shut him down and get him ready for next Spring Training,” Martinez explained, acknowledging that the early-season struggles in the rotation led to heavy workloads for his relievers.
They were cautious, Martinez had explained earlier in the month, because they think Rainey is going to play an important role in the bullpen going forward.
“Rainey is slowly but surely becoming that guy, and every time out there you can see him building more and more confidence, it’s good,” the skipper told reporters.
“Here’s a guy last year — you got to remember, last year was his first year, and slowly but surely he started getting better and better. This year, he had some — a kind of confidence in him that, ‘Hey, I’m going to be able to pitch in the back end of the bullpen. I’m going to get high-leverage situations and get outs, and he’s been doing that and he’s been doing that really well.
“Moving forward ... I can see him being the closer. Right now he’s our eighth-inning guy, but I can see him moving into that closer’s spot in the future here, for sure.”
“He’s been terrific for us,” GM Mike Rizzo said in September. “He came from a very limited major league experience when we traded for him.
“There were bouts of wildness ... and he was a thrower and not a pitcher. His stuff was unquestionable, but his pitchability was something that allowed us to trade for him. I think our major league and minor league coaches did a great job with him, not only last year giving him a foundation of getting to the big leagues, but specifically this year in our two Spring Trainings, to see the progression he’s made in commanding two of those extremely productive pitches for him has been great.”
Finnegan started strong with a 1.38 ERA and a .152/.235/.174 line against in his first 13 games and 13 IP, had a brief, rough stretch at the start of September (8 R, 6 ER in four games and 2 1⁄3 IP), and finished up his first season in the majors with 9 1⁄3 scoreless in eight appearances down the stretch.
“I’ve been really proud of myself lately,” Finnegan said after he worked through the stretch in which he struggled, “... because I haven’t had the greatest stretch here lately. I’ve gotten hit around a little bit in some of my previous outings.”
“I’m just happy that I’ve been able to endure the grind of a major league season so far,” the reliever added, “... albeit it’s a shortened season, but it’s a grind nonetheless, and just trying to be able to be a guy that can take the ball every day, that’s what I’ve been working on.”
Though he spent the majority of his time working in the 6th/7th innings, he earned the trust of his manager and was one of Martinez’s go-to guys down the stretch, which meant a lot to the pitcher.
“It’s been amazing,” Finnegan said late in the year. “My mindset when the game starts is be ready to go whenever, so I’m happy that I’ve earned those opportunities to pitch when we’re losing and it’s close, when it’s tied, extra innings. I want to be a guy that he can turn to and have some confidence, so for that to go that way so far this season, I’m very proud of myself for that.”
Looking ahead, Hudson, who’ll be back in D.C. in the second year of his 2-year/$11M deal in 2021, said he was excited about the core of the relief corps returning for what, they are all hoping, will be a traditional, 162-game season.
“I just hope it’s somewhat normal,” Hudson said.
“We can get past this whole thing this year and get into everything off the field, kind of calm down, especially with COVID and everything, and we can just have a normal offseason and normal roll-in to Spring Training and get through a normal Spring Training and go through 2021 as it comes.
“I’m looking forward to getting home and decompressing a little bit and then getting back into my routine.”